(NEWBERN, Tenn.) -- The death toll from swarms of violent thunderstorms and tornadoes that devastated communities across eight states rose to 28 with the discovery of the last unaccounted-for resident in Tennessee, the governor said Tuesday.
"The wrath of God is the only way I can describe it," Gov. Phil Bredesen said after a helicopter tour of the damaged region.
He said Tennessee was up to 24 deaths and 1,000 homes destroyed by Sunday's storms. The latest victim was found in the rubble of a home in the community of Millsfield, officials said. Emergency crews were still out searching for possible victims, but no one else was known to be missing, Bredesen said.
"I have never seen anything like this, and I've been through several tornadoes. I'm used to seeing roofs off houses, houses blown over -- these houses were down to their foundations, stripped clean," Bredesen said. "It really stripped the earth clean."
Joshua Medley remembers vividly how he and his mother clung to each other in a closet as a tornado bore down on their Newbern home. The ordeal lasted only a few minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime.
"We got lifted up in the air and the house was spinning," said Medley, whose 1,500-square foot home was moved 12 feet from its foundation. "I didn't think we were going to make it."
U.S. Rep. John Tanner, who accompanied Bredesen on the tour, said his cousin Janie King, 57, was killed by a tornado that destroyed her home near Newbern.
"When you have 20-something fatalities, that's just a number. This really puts a face to it," Tanner said, visibly shaken.
The storms destroyed homes and buildings across parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. Strong wind was blamed for at least three deaths in Missouri, and one man died in a store collapse in southern Illinois.
In Tennessee's Dyer and Gibson counties, the hardest hit areas, rescue workers were still searching the rubble of brick buildings and mobile homes. At least 75 people were injured, 17 of them critically, Bredesen said.
The Democratic governor said he had requested a federal disaster declaration for the two counties. He said hadn't gotten a reply yet Tuesday morning but said he had been assured the request would be processed quickly and that the area would get some help.
The storms developed when a cold front approaching from the West slammed into a mass of warm, humid air, said Memphis meteorologist Jody Aaron. Preliminary reports indicated a swarm of 64 tornadoes touched down in seven of the eight states, the weather service's Storm Prediction Center said. Ohio had extensive wind damage but no confirmed tornadoes.
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher compared the destruction to "Sherman's march" through the South during the Civil War.
Part of K&G Fashion Superstore's roof and wall collapsed in Fairview Heights, Ill., killing Delancey Moore, 54. His best friend, Doug Young, an off-duty police officer working security, was freed from the wreckage after about 45 minutes.
"I'm so blessed," Young, 54, said Monday by telephone from his hospital bed, where he had a bruised chest and various cuts.
The violent weather injured dozens of Arkansans and destroyed numerous homes and businesses. Gov. Mike Huckabee authorized the National Guard to help clean up the town of Marmaduke, where brick shells were all that remained of some houses. He also declared emergencies in seven counties to allow residents to seek state aid.
In Newbern, Larry Taylor, who owns the town's only funeral home, planned to hold services later this week for his son and daughter-in-law and the couple's two young sons.
"I have to," Taylor said of his task of preparing their bodies for burial. "I'd give everything I had for that not to have happened. Those little boys were my life."
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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